The issue of the use of cannabis for the treatment of certain medical conditions has developed an increasingly higher profile in the mainstream media in the last few years. In the UK, the widely reported case of Billy Caldwell, the then 12 year old with a severe form of epilepsy who suffers as many as 100 seizures a day, captured the country's attention when six months' worth of the medicinal cannabis his mother had sought to import from Canada had been seized by authorities as she arrived at Heathrow airport early in Summer 2018. The case, in which the then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, ultimately allowed the child to receive the cannabis oil under the close scrutiny of his hospital, thrust the wider issue of the use of medical cannabis into the spotlight.
The position in the UK contrasts with the position in a growing number of countries around the world where the cultivation, testing and sale/export of cannabis-based products for medicinal purposes is already legal. The legal status of medicinal cannabis around the world varies from a relaxed, general decriminalisation of cannabis such as in Canada and the Netherlands, to much stricter regimes which allow only a limited range of products to be prescribed and used in limited circumstances, e.g., countries that have only de-restricted the use of a singular drug, like Sativex (France).
The issues and the UK story
The science relating to the beneficial effects of Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the substance extracted from cannabis with the claimed medicinal qualities, is not yet settled. There are conflicting scientific views about the role CBD can play in the management of serious medical conditions like that endured by Billy Caldwell, or indeed the alleviating effect CBD can have on those suffering from chronic nausea and vomiting caused as a side effect of chemotherapy treatment of cancer. Anecdotally, the therapeutic qualities of CBD are enthusiastically, often forcefully extolled by its users as a life-altering treatment for conditions which are often life-altering themselves. The lack of settled science in this regard is a matter which has been a source of debate in the UK, as highlighted by the British Parliament.
In the 'UK Government's response to the Health and Social Care Select Committee's report on Drugs Policy: Medicinal Cannabis', published in September this year, the UK Government indicated that: "There is a clear consensus on the need for more clinical evidence. The National Institute for Health Research (('NIHR') is supporting the...